Eighteen-year-old Liobhan is a powerful singer and an expert whistle player. Her brother has a voice to melt the hardest heart, and a rare talent on the harp. But Liobhan's burning ambition is to join the elite warrior band on Swan Island. She and her brother train there to compete for places, and find themselves joining a mission while still candidates. Their unusual blend of skills makes them ideal for this particular job, which requires going undercover as traveling minstrels. For Swan Island trains both warriors and spies.
I received this book in exchange for an honest review via Netgalley. I was interested in this book because of the unique title and the cover, which reminded me of a Tamora Pierce novel. I was not familiar with Juliet Marillier when I chose this book, but, after finishing the first book in this series, I’m definitely interested to learn more about her other series.
The plot of this book is initially confusing. Things start off quickly and based on the first couple of chapters and the summary of the book, I expected the rest of the story to be a political espionage story and was ready to dutifully read through. However, a bit past 10% of the way in, dark,magical forces come into the play and I could not put the book down. Suddenly there were layers of plot weaving together in ways that made me wonder how the author would manage to pull it all together. If you can plow through the initial first pages, you’re in for a real treat.
This book is told from the point of view of three warrior spies from Swan Island: Liobhan, her adoptive brother Brocc and her rival Dau. Since the point of view is shared from three different people, it was initially difficult to connect with any of the protagonists, as we don’t get enough time to spend with each of them. Luckily, the plot pulled me forward and I grew to like each character for their unique voice. I was especially impressed with the way the author made me fall in love with secondary characters, like the story teller and a young girl from court.
Much like the other aspects of the book, it took me some time to feel grounded in the setting. The book starts on their training ground, Swan Island, but we only get to spend a chapter or two there. We don’t spend anytime at the character’s hometowns. The characters are then sent to a neighboring country for their mission. This country had an intriguing culture, history and magic system, that I enjoyed exploring through the characters. However, I still would have liked to see more of the world early on.
The Harp of Kings is the first book in Juliet Marillier’s Warrior Bards series. The book had an awkward and slow start, but quickly picks up into an intriguing, complex and impossible to put down story. You’ll find yourself falling in love with the main characters and their friends. My only hope is that in the upcoming sequels, we’ll have a chance to see more of the world she’s created than we could in this first book.